As supply chain issues continue to cause headaches across just about every industry: automobiles, electronic devices including phones, as well as countless other products like sausage and diet soda.
Perhaps the most significant shortage can be found in the semiconductor market. Computer chips have become in short supply in recent months, and the entire world has been woefully unprepared for it.
As the biggest companies with the deepest pocketbooks buy the majority of the available chips, medical device manufacturers are struggling to compete — even though the need clearly fits the “life or death” category.
How is the computer chip shortage affecting the availability of CPAP machines? Should you be concerned? And when can we expect the situation to improve?
Why Is There a Computer Chip Shortage?
When the COVID-19 pandemic blew up in 2020, the entire world found itself unprepared and ill-equipped to handle it — not just in healthcare, but in virtually every industry.
For the first few months of the pandemic, consumers hit the pause button on their regular buying habits. Manufacturers responded by slowing or even stopping the production of various goods, including computer chips. It turned out to be a miscalculation of catastrophic proportions.
As the pandemic dragged on and society adjusted to working at home, computer sales (among other electronics-dependent products such as automobiles) spiked upward. The semiconductor manufacturers were not ready for the increased demand, and the production of countless products — including CPAP machines and other medical devices — dropped dramatically.
What Are CPAP Companies Doing About It?
With a worldwide shortage of computer chips, companies are scrambling to procure whatever inventory is available. While huge industries such as automobiles, computers, and phones have the upper hand in securing the majority of these semiconductors, other fields like the medical industry are urgently demanding their share of the chips. Lives are at stake, after all.
As potentially life-saving equipment, CPAP machines use computer chips to store and relay information about the patients’ use and device compliance. The chips transmit data over cellular networks to medical care organizations (MCOs) and suppliers. The suppliers can then access the data via websites.
As a result of the chip shortage, CPAP manufacturers are eyeing other possible solutions such as a “card-to-cloud” version, which uses an SD-style card in the device to track and store user data. While functional, this solution requires the supplier or MCO to retrieve the card and download its data to ensure compliance.
Needless to say, neither doctors nor suppliers prefer this method. Its dependence on physically transporting the card is far less efficient than a chip that can automatically transfer data, not to mention user cooperation. However, it can make the machines more readily available again, which is the priority for CPAP manufacturers and patients.
Should You Be Worried About a CPAP Machine Shortage?
Right now it can still be challenging to get a CPAP machine in a timely manner. Some patients have reported waiting months to receive one. Production levels continue to remain well below normal.
The problem is expected to improve, however. Computer chip manufacturers have ramped up production to maximum capacity while they scramble to build more factories around the world. But it will take time — up to two years, depending on the economy and other factors — before things get back to normal (whatever “normal” may look like in the future).
CPAP manufacturers, meanwhile, are looking for whichever solutions they can find, whether it’s negotiating for more computer chips or finding new, innovative ways to track and transmit data on their medical devices.
Should you be worried? Probably not. While the shortage has presented serious problems for patients and their caregivers, much work is being done to find solutions … fast. Even though CPAP users are far outnumbered by cell phone users, there are still tens of millions of people who depend on them.
It’s possible you may have to wait a little longer if you order a new CPAP machine, but chances are good that you will get one eventually.